It is the 12th of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1859.
The issues across the globe included slavery, the widening gulf between rich and poor, and the definition of and limits to freedom.
In terms of “firsts,” a couple of notable events took place in 1859. Oregon, the second finest state in the Union, officially became a state. In 1859, Big Ben tolled for the first time. Remember it’s only the clock that’s called Big Ben. The tower is called the Elizabeth Tower after the current Monarch Elizabeth II. In 1859, in a valley by a creek in northwest Pennsylvania, George Bissell and Edwin Drake struck oil using their drilling rig. It was the first commercial oil well in America.
A number of famous works were published in this year. Looking at them from a historical perspective tells us something about the people both writing and reading these works. Dickens explored the French Revolution and its current application in his “A Tale of Two Cities.” Charles Darwin published “On The Origins of the Species” in which he borrowed the term “survival of the fittest” from philosopher Herbert Spencer. In 1859, John Stuart Mill published his “Essay on Liberty” and Marx produced his “Critique of Political Economy.”
1859 saw the last days of Alexis de Tocqueville, Horace Mann, and Washington Irving. But the year also saw the births of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Kenneth Grahame of “Wind in the Willows” fame, John Dewey, and painter Georges Seurat.
The 19th century saw revolutions across South America. The same impulses we see across the world were present there. The old empires that still had something of a grip on what was called “Latin” America after the languages of its colonizers. Today we look at Brazil in 1859 and remember the landing of missionary Ashbel Green Simonton who landed in Rio De Janeiro on this, the 12th or August, in 1859.
Brazil, despite being under nominal Portuguese control, had protestant missionaries in the past. John Calvin helped to send French Huguenots to Brazil in the 16th century. His plan was to create a colony for Protestant refugees in the New World. It by-and-large failed. The Jesuits tried their thing in Brazil in the 17th century but were less than successful. The Dutch also created a small colony in Brazil with the intent of missionary work. However, it seems to be little more than a vacation spot for them. As they left, so too did Protestant Christianity.
And thus, when Ashbel Green Simonton landed in Rio on this day in 1859, it was a daunting task. But, in seven years, he helped found multiple churches, established a presbytery, helped support local clergy, and created the template for a Brazilian church newspaper to keep Brazilian Christians abreast of news within and without their church.
Because the Princeton Seminary grad was almost alone in the vast country, he had to use many of the indigenous resources and people to establish a church. And it is likely his light touch on the establishments he helped create that made them more welcome and palatable to native Brazilians. Within a few years, Ashbel’s brother-in-law joined him and helped convert a local priest who had access to Bibles. Jose Manoel de Conceicao became an important indigenous preacher for the protestant cause.
Simonton took a furlough in 1862. He came back to the states to marry Helen Murdoch. She, however, died a few days after giving birth to their only child. Ashbell took his daughter, also named Helen, back to Brazil where she stayed with his brother-in-law and sister.
In 1867, feeling ill, he went to stay with his family in Sao Paulo. It is there that he succumbed to a tropical fever. He was only 36, but his influence on the Brazilian church was greater than what centuries of missionaries were able to accomplish in Brazil. We remember him today, the 12th of August, as he landed in Sao Paolo, on this day in 1859.
The reading for today comes from Sir Walter Raleigh, a short poem found in the margins of his personal Bible. Thanks to my father-in-law Walt Harrah for pointing this one out to me.
Even such is time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us nought but age and dust;
Which in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days!
And from which grave, and earth, and dust,
The Lord shall raise me up, I trust.'
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 12th of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher “Hey Look,f Kids, There’s Big Ben” Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.